Doubt??? After only two weeks as an ordained person?
Why is it that non believers so often hold tightly to the notion that to be a believer, one must never have doubts? I think maybe it’s a way of letting themselves off the hook, it allows them to say ‘well, I couldn’t possibly be a believer… because there are things I don’t understand and I’m sure I’d have doubts’.
So let me say this gently: most Christians do. Have doubts that is. At the moment I don’t happen to be struggling with any major ones but I have in the past and I probably will in the future… I’ll keep you posted. But there is still a whole heap of stuff I don’t understand about God and that exactly as it should be. God is God and if I, Sheila Bridge, claimed to understand him fully he would be rather small, don’t you think? (Given that my brain is a long, long way short of being ‘the size of a planet’). So no, I don’t understand God fully, but I have come to understand enough to trust him.
In the past few years I have been learning to trust what I know of his character more than I rely on my limited understanding of ‘life, the universe and everything’. Some people seem to think that if you can only reach a certain percentage of knowledge and understanding of God, you’re in, that’s it, you’re definitely a Christian. Personally I think it’s Christians who call for ‘pass marks’. God only calls for a mustard seed of faith, the tiniest of seeds and he honours it. And he answers the prayers of people who can only manage to stammer ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24)
CS Lewis also rejected this all or nothing approach saying that people were never 100% Christian or 100% non- Christian ( Mere Christianity). He pointed out that all of us, all of the time are either moving towards Christ or away, maybe in the end it’s our direction that counts the most, not attaining theological certitude or moral perfection. After all the thief who turned to Jesus on the cross was promised paradise and he hardly had a lot of time to work out his theology. He met Jesus, he turned in his direction. That turned out to be all that mattered
So is it possible to be a Christian and still have doubts? Yes, definitely, in fact it’s probably preferable. Carl Jung said ‘The suppression of doubt is the seed of fanaticism in all its forms’.
‘Doubt is not the opposite of faith, unbelief is. Fear is not the opposite of courage, cowardice is’ (Os Guinness from God in the Dark) In other words it’s still possible to be moving in a God-ward direction with doubts, just as being able to act courageously doesn’t mean you’re not afraid.
Anyway, this is all just a pre-amble. I didn’t really mean to write about Doubt, it just appealed to my sense of humour to put up a post on a controversial subject so soon after being ordained (and maybe I made you look?) In fact, I sat down to write you a film review on the film Doubt starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The doubt in the title is not about faith, it’s a doubt whether something bad has happened or not. It’s not a film about believing in God or not, that only comes into it a little bit. Streep plays the Nun who is Principal of a Catholic school in New York in the 1950’s. Hoffman plays the priest. The Principle suspects the priest of an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with one of the altar boys. It’s a story of character versus conviction, but whose character is the more generous and whose convictions are correct?
Given all that has been revealed about the scandalous behaviour of many catholic priests – this is a sizzling hot potato of a subject. The film is absolutely brilliant but I can’t tell you much more about it without spoiling the plot. So I shall just say watch out for the wind, it’s very metaphorical and look out for the moment the Principal’s whole world tilts. Much stuff for discussion in this film, it’s even quite funny. (You’ll never think of Frosty the Snowman in quite the same light). Fantastic performances by the two leads and by Amy Adams who plays the young naive sister caught in the middle. Plus the feathers story is just brilliant, one day I might just use that in a sermon.